Corn and wheat also have taken a beating – but specialists believe the Louisiana cotton crop may have weathered the storm.
Double-digit rainfall was recorded in many areas of the state over the past couple of weeks, and totals exceeding 20 inches were seen in some places. Observers even reported as much as 24-27 inches in spots, according to LSU AgCenter faculty members.
In the case of rice, Dr. Johnny Saichuk, an LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said many Louisiana farmers’ crops were not affected by the high water, but for others the damage is done – both immediate and long-term.
"It’s not a pretty picture right now," Saichuk said, adding some rice-producing areas he was informed about recorded rainfall exceeding 20 inches in 10 days.
Rice farmers as far north as Avoyelles and Rapides parishes are among the worst hit because of backwater flooding that has kept their fields submerged for several days, Saichuk said. Acreage in the southwestern part of the state appeared to drain better, he said.
Heavy rains also have caused other problems for producers, Saichuk said. For example, aviation companies haven’t been able to get in the air to spray for rice water weevils and weeds. And fertilizer applications by airplane also have been delayed because of bad weather, he said.
"This is going to hurt us," Saichuk said.
Moist conditions often are the prelude for plant diseases, according to the LSU AgCenter expert, who said he’s already hearing reports of sheath blight in rice in Vermilion Parish.
In addition to those complications, rice fields that are being drained to help them recover from the flooding may then have to be partially flooded again by the farmers. That means pumping water back onto the fields, Saichuk said, point out that will cost farmers money.
Much of the rice is stunted, Saichuk said, because it was covered with too much water. He’s recommending against completely draining rice fields because the young plants lack freestanding capability, and water can help support the spindly stems.
The LSU AgCenter expert said some rice farmers will decide to replant, but yields from late planting can be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Even more, farmers who planted fields with Clearfield rice varieties may have trouble finding replacement herbicide-resistant seed, he said. And if an application of Newpath herbicide – which is used with Clearfield to control the nuisance red rice – already been made, it could damage conventional rice.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 95 percent of the state’s rice acreage was planted as of May 16. Of that total, 7 percent of the acreage was classified as poor, up from 3 percent in the previous week, according to the USDA, and the acreage considered excellent dropped from 12 percent to 9 percent.
Like Saichuk, LSU AgCenter assistant professor Dr. David Lanclos, who works with research and educational programs on soybeans, corn, and grain sorghum in the state, said submerged crops and missed pesticide and fertilizer applications were among the most obvious problems.
Lanclos said that while all plant commodities are suffering from the heavy rainfall in Central and South Louisiana, soybeans seem to be suffering the most.
"Approximately 60 percent of the soybeans have been planted in the state," he said, "And large acreages of soybeans are planted in Central and South Louisiana on soils less tolerant to high rainfall."
Traditionally, the heavy clay soils found in those areas require more time to drain and dry following a major rain, Lanclos explained.
Lanclos said corn and wheat crops also were damaged by the wet conditions in Central Louisiana.
Specialists said the wheat harvest, which was looking promising, was stopped by the rain. Now, the rainfall, moving water and wind caused wheat to lodge in some areas of the field, which will make it difficult to harvest, and the quality of the grain is likely to be reduced – thus making the season less successful than had been expected just a couple of weeks ago.
LSU AgCenter experts say corn damage is expected to be less serious in the state, because a large portion of the state’s acreage is planted north of the heavily flooded areas. But experts still say some corn in the flooded areas may suffer because of the loss of nitrogen from the soil brought on by the flooding.
"There is going to be a lot of replanting – especially in the low areas of the field," Lanclos said.
In one bright spot, although the recent rains hampered many of the state’s crops, the state’s cotton crop has faired the weather well, according to LSU AgCenter cotton specialist Dr. Sandy Stewart.
Stewart, who works out of the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria, said he still holds an optimistic outlook for this year’s cotton crop.
"Statewide, the crop looks better than I thought it would," Stewart said. "There will have to be some replanting – but not as much as we originally thought it would be."
The youngest cotton in the state was planted just before the rains came, but there also are some cotton fields with plants that are at the four-leaf to-five-leaf stages, Stewart said.
"These larger plants likely will resume normal growth once the fields drain and the sunshine returns," he said, adding, however, "Some of the fields where the cotton was just planted and the plants had not emerged will most probably have to be replanted."
Cotton generally can tolerate 24-36 hours of submerged, waterlogged conditions, Stewart said. But decay can occur if cotton is submerged in standing water for longer periods.
"The bottom line is that older and larger cotton plants are more likely to tolerate this problem and recover normally," Stewart said. "There is little a producer can do to improve crop health until some drying occurs. Once that happens, we’ll know more about where the crop is in terms of growth and development."
Cotton planting season in Louisiana is from mid-April to mid-May. As of May 13, about 90 percent of the state’s cotton crop had been planted, Stewart said.
"We have a drying forecast right now," he said. "If this forecast stays, the fields will dry and producers will be able to get back in them to work."
Those seem to be the issues for farmers, according to the experts, who explain farmers probably need anywhere from a week to 10 days of good weather before they can resume planting or replanting their fields.
Parishes receiving the heaviest rain include Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberville, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, Natchitoches, Point Coupee, Rapides, St. Landry and St. Martin.
Northern parishes also received rain but escaped the losses caused by heavy rainfall.
On the other hand, even moderate rainfall can make it more difficult to take heavy planting equipment into the fields to finish planting or to replant areas that need it, the experts say.
As an example of the types of problems farmers face, LSU AgCenter county agent Eddie Eskew said losses in Jefferson Davis Parish, where rainfall totals reportedly ranged from 11 inches to 22 inches, may not be huge – but that’s still a problem.
"Believe it or not, our losses are not that severe – although any loss in agriculture is not good," Eskew said, explaining that farming profitably generally requires getting the maximum back from what you put into it.